This Valentine’s Day the powers have shifted. The discussion around gender, sex, power, and influence are vastly different from any conversations in my memory. I am hopeful that these changes will result in justice for countless victims and a reworking of a system that has historically always protected the rich and male.
But on the ground, in offices and living rooms, women are also having an important conversation. One which I have hesitated to wade into until now. The question of the role of women in this moment extends beyond standing up and speaking out and supporting those who do. It is one about power in romantic or sexual situations. It is about the moment when you start feeling uncomfortable on a date or in a sexual situation. It is about setting boundaries about how you will live KNOWING that not every guy out there is going to respect you.
I am drawn back to the accounts of Aziz Ansari’s accuser. I believe every word she said. I believe that he probably didn’t pay attention to her non-verbal cues. I believe that it was perhaps the worst night of her life. I believe her. But listening to her story made me wonder if I am teaching my girls to set boundaries and to be brave and comfortable enough to say no OUT LOUD.
Mr. Ansari could have been an asshole who would’ve used violence if she said no. That’s always a risk you take when you walk into any romantic/sexual situation. But what if he wasn’t (because MOST men aren’t)? What if one word would have put an end to what was otherwise a very traumatic experience? By her account, he wasn’t violent at any point, so why didn’t she feel comfortable enough to verbally say no?
I know a lot of people are gearing up for a romantic evening or have Valentine’s Day trips planned for this weekend. Some of us, will “hook up” with somebody we are just getting to know, or have no interest in getting to know (thanks, Tindr, Grindr, whatever). But before we, as women, proceed in the search for our ideal partner, I think we need to check in with ourselves.
There are lots of women out there who have a real problem with setting and maintaining healthy barriers in relationships. The reasons why are as varied as the women themselves. Childhood trauma, low self-esteem, etc. As a mother, I am increasingly asking myself if I have shown my girls, through my actions, how to say no and mean it. Have I modeled healthy boundaries for them? Have I shown them how important it is to respect other people’s boundaries?
They aren’t old enough for boys yet (thank God) but I believe in starting young. Teaching them to speak up for themselves and getting them used to the expectation that they will be heard is as simple as letting them order for themselves at the restaurant, or express their opinion about a new house rule. When they go to see the pediatrician I let them answer as many questions as they can during the initial assessment (where does it hurt? Have you had a bowel movement?) because they need to be unafraid to speak up to protect their own bodies even to an adult/authority figure.
I am realizing that many parents, too many in my opinion, don’t do this for their girls. They don’t teach them to speak up and expect to be heard. The Girl Scouts have even started a “raise your hand” campaign to encourage girls to raise their hand to answer questions in the classroom. There is this fear of how they will be perceived (stupid, bossy, loud, pushy) that many young girls wrestle with when it comes to speaking up. Somehow we have allowed a culture to grow up around our girls that they shouldn’t expect to be heard unless or until they get “ugly”. After all, nice girls always say yes, right?
So here are my thoughts on this matter. If you are one of the millions of women out there who need help setting boundaries, then you don’t need to be dating. You need to be working on yourself. You don’t need #MeToo, you need #MeTime. You need to get to a place where you are comfortable verbally dissenting and drawing clear boundaries with your partner. And if he can’t handle that then you need a new partner. But most men respond (even begrudgingly) to a firm “no”.
As for those who don’t, well #TimesUp.